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Jim Sutton Speech To UK Grasshoppers Group

Speech Notes

8pm, 20 February 2002

British Grasshoppers function, Wellington

I am delighted to be able to meet with you all tonight, and welcome you to New Zealand.

We have grasshopper groups here in New Zealand. I know that you as a group take a keen interest in political, business and market outlook. You would have had a good look at the country so far, and the Hawkes Bay Grasshoppers, no doubt, showed you a good time earlier this week. I can assure you that, as a former South Island farmer, the best for you is yet to come, when you reach the South Island.

I'm sure as Britons, you've had a warm welcome here.

But don't be fooled by the faint similarity of scenery and farm land into thinking that Britain and New Zealand are the same.

Recently I received a letter from a farmer in Rakaia, (that's in Canterbury) who complained about the fact that there were now six British farmers living within a 10 kilometre radius of his farm. Was this right and proper, and moving New Zealand in the right direction, what did I think, and what do I intend to do about it? To put you at ease, I replied that they would be providing both farmers and communities with some new thinking and more especially they would be helping to hold land values up.

This farmer may be one of your farm visits, perhaps!

You're talking to farmers during your visit, so I won't get down to the nitty-gritty of agriculture ? better you hear it from the grassroots.

Rather, I thought I'd deal with some big-picture Government thinking on agriculture and rural affairs. Some of which are quite different to thinking in Britain.

I am also Minister for Trade Negotiations, and for New Zealand, trade and agriculture are closely linked. More than 60 per cent of our export earnings come from the primary production sector ? 20 per cent from dairy alone.

As a major exporter of food products on which heavy tariffs are imposed, we are always pushing for greater market access. China and Taiwan's joining the World Trade Organisation and the possibility of dismantling of export subsidies as negotiations in the new Doha trade round auger well for New Zealand and for the consumers of our food around the world.

The flipside of international trade is biosecurity, which is another one of my ministerial responsibilities.

We in New Zealand were horrified when foot and mouth disease broke out in Britain. It was a catastrophe that no country would wish on another. It was a reminder to us here and we tightened our border control measures in an effort to catch 100 per cent of all meat, fruit, vegetables, and other plant material coming in with airline passengers.

We need to continue to be ever vigilant to ensure that we minimise the risk of any unwanted pests and diseases.

For you, foot and mouth disease was a tragedy affecting less than 1 per cent of your economy. For us, it would cripple the standard of living of every citizen, and the effects would persist for years, even if we were able to quickly eradicate the disease.

The Government has streamlined some industry structures. Recently we deregulated the pipfruit and dairy boards, and the marketing of these products is now handled by private or producer co-operative structures. Their statutory monopolies are no more. Our deer industry is also moving towards a new structure, and the meat industry is also contemplating new ways to work.

We are in the process of setting up a new food agency, combining the Food functions of the Ministries of Health and Agriculture. This will give us better synergies and a one-stop shop for food safety issues.

The Government puts considerable emphasis on the social needs of rural communities. We are working to ensure rural people have access to the same infrastructure as city people, so that farming can take advantage of our desired knowledge economy. For instance, we need much faster rural Internet connections and download speeds and there are many projects around New Zealand looking at how best to deliver those services.

I have been appointed as Rural Affairs Minister, the first-ever. The role means providing a voice for rural people at the Cabinet table in an effort to make sure rural people's concerns are heard when decisions are made. In this country, 15 per cent of people are directly involved in farming, but that proportion grows significantly when you include the people involved in processing farm products for export.

As part of my rural affairs portfolio, I introduced a new fund two years ago which rural community groups can apply for called the Sustainable Farming Fund. People with good ideas, which could benefit a district or region but don't have the resources for a feasibility study, can apply for a grant. We get many more applications than funds allow for so a farmer-orientated selection committee sorts out the best bets.

Under the same Sustainable Agriculture banner we also have financially supported sustainable farming monitor farms, which develop, practice and display sustainable farming practices. Through field days on these farms we discuss progress and disseminate findings.

Overall, our agricultural outlook is promising. Farming as an occupation is once again attracting its share of young people, something long overdue.

I hope you have very enjoyable and thought provoking stay in New Zealand. Your itinerary looks most interesting.

Office of Hon Jim Sutton

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